KIND EYES AND A LION’S HEART
“Viola! There you are and about time, too!” Lady Anne declared as Viola hurried into her bedchamber to dress for the feast that evening.
Her Aunt Anne was always well and expensively attired, and never more so than when they were hosting a tournament. Today she wore a gown of deep green wool with a belt of soft leather wrapped twice around her narrow waist. Covering her graying hair she wore an embroidered cap over a short veil and a barbette around her chin. The ruched sleeves of her shift were visible inside the wide cuffs of the gown, and tassels at the end of the belt reached nearly to the floor. Two maidservants stood mutely by the window waiting to help Viola dress.
“Look at you!” her aunt continued with dismay. “What are you thinking, going about in that servant’s garb? Anybody who saw you would think you were a servant!”
“You’d be more upset if I got blood on one of my better gowns,” Viola calmly and truthfully noted. She was used to her aunt’s overly emotional declarations and she really was sure her aunt would be upset if she got blood on any of her other gowns.
“You shouldn’t even be in that tent!” Lady Anne went on, her hands fluttering nervously. “A lady like you dealing with wounded men and blood. It’s not seemly! I shouldn’t allow it! Next time I won’t! If there is a next time and you’re not already married, as you should be. Look at you – twenty and still a spinster! People are talking, I’m sure of it!”
Viola paid little heed to her aunt’s anxious declarations as she washed her face and hands. Lady Anne has been voicing the same complaints and making the same threats for years now.
This time, though, Viola had a response prepared. “I meet some of the men participating in the tournament in that tent. For instance, today I met Lord Barengar de Morraine.”
Her aunt gasped and clasped her hands in a prayerful attitude, her eyes widening with delight. “Lord Barengar de Morraine? He’s the most eligible knight here!” Her delight died in a moment. “And you were wearing those rags!”
“He didn’t seem to be paying much attention to my gown,” Viola noted, although that wasn’t exactly true. Her dress had no doubt been the reason he’d assumed she was a servant and treated her with such disrespect.
Unlike his cousin, that other young man with the kind eyes and lovely deep voice who blushed so readily and who was so concerned about his squire. As for swooning, Sir Melvin wasn’t the only man who was disturbed by broken bones and blood. If only more noblemen were! And if only more were less like his arrogant, leering cousin.
“What did Lord Barengar say to you? Does he know who you are?”
“He introduced himself and yes, Aunt, I made certain he knows who I am.”
Not in a way to encourage his attentions, but Lady Anne didn’t need to know that.
Her aunt clapped her hands with sudden decision. “Mary, Alice,” she said to the serving maids, “you must do your absolute best tonight! Thank goodness we had that new gown made. You must wear your emeralds, too, Viola. And for the love of all that’s holy and your hope of a good match, do not treat Lord Barengar like a dolt. You have to be sweet and docile if you’re to get a husband.”
“Yes, Aunt,” Viola replied, pretending to be sweet and docile. That was easy enough to do with Aunt Anne. Unfortunately, she found it almost impossible when she was among noblemen.
She would rather spend her life unmarried than wed to someone like Lord Barengar de Morraine. She had her aunt’s own unhappy marriage to serve as a warning about a union made for power or gain or social standing.
“Come along, Viola, get out of those horrid clothes,” her aunt ordered. “I leave her in your hands, Mary. I must see about changing the seating arrangements. Lord Barengar – what a triumph such a match would be!” she cried as she hurried from the room.
What a disaster it would be, Viola thought as she submitted to the maidservants. Nor was she anxious to sit near the man for the feast.
She’d much rather sit beside his bashful cousin.
Chapter Two begins on June 8.
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Note: This novella is PG13. With the exception of GWYNETH ANDTHE THIEF and THE WASTREL, my books are usually steamier.